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The Detroit district will open classrooms to teachers without home internet access

Anthony Lanzilote

The Detroit school district will open up some of its school buildings for educators who don’t have internet access at home and require it for remote learning, as well as for teachers who need to retrieve their laptops, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Tuesday.

Vitti said he’d announce later this week which buildings will be opened.

The superintendent said the district does not have the exact number of teachers who lack internet access, but he said there aren’t that many, noting: “I think they’re in the extreme minority, not the majority.”

But for those educators without an internet connection, getting online is now essential since some of their work, from student outreach to training, is being done virtually. Those allowed back in select school buildings in the coming weeks will be following social distancing guidelines and will be isolated in their classrooms to be able to complete their work, Vitti said.

Vitti mentioned the plan to open some campuses to educators during his report to school board members on the district’s expanded online learning efforts, which launched Tuesday with staff training.

It’s part of a statewide effort by Michigan school districts to engage students and families in learning after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all K-12 schools to be closed for the remainder of the school year to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Vitti said it will take time for staff to adjust to a new way of teaching.

“As we get moving, teachers will get a better understanding of what students will be able to access through a device, phone call, what the life or family situation is, and from there be able to individualize the engagement for the students at home,” he said.

Under the district’s remote learning plan, teachers will be expected to work a full school day, with three to four hours dedicated to virtual lessons and the remainder of their working hours used to conduct virtual check-ins with students and families, prepare lessons, video conference with students one-on-one, and provide feedback on assignments. Schoolwork will not be graded.

Teachers are participating in intensive professional development, which started on Tuesday, to support the distance learning efforts. So far, the feedback has been mixed.

Lakia Wilson, the vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said feedback from teachers suggests the training was “a complete flop,” and she said teachers are unfamiliar with distance learning. Vitti, by contrast, said the district surveyed teachers after the first day of training, and the feedback was mostly positive.

Meanwhile, the district is expanding the number of sites where parents can pick up academic packets, beginning the week of April 20. A list of sites providing academic packets can be found here.

Eight schools will also provide learning materials for students who have a visual impairment, are deaf or hard of hearing, and those with other special education needs: Mumford, Renaissance, Cody, Central High School, DCP @ Northwestern, Roberto Clemente, East English Village Preparatory Academy, and Southeastern.

Western International High School will have Spanish-language materials for students enrolled in dual-language programs at Academy of Americas, Maybury Elementary, and Neinas Dual Language Academy.

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